Synthetic translation systems
Insertion of selenocysteine requires a sophisticated translation path which restricts the position and proteins in which it is inserted. This is due to the presence of a hairpin element (SECIS), which can either be in the translated (bacteria) or untranslated (eukaryote) region of the mRNA. We a focus on tRNA engineering, we can avoid the restriction of the SECIS element and promote site-specific insertion of selenocysteine into any protein of interest.
Role of natural selenoproteins in disease
Humans have 25 selenoproteins which are essential for our survival. These proteins are found to be antioxidants and involved in reducing reactive oxygen species (ROS) to prevent DNA damage. With technology to express natural selenoproteins we can study their biochemistry and biophysics in efforts to understand their role in the human body. With this information we can understand the potential for using selenium as a therapeutic for treatment of specific diseases.
Harnessing Sec for hydrogen production
Hydrogen is a source of clean energy that can be produced by hydrogenases. Natural systems, however, are limited in their hydrogen production capabilities and can be inactivated in oxygen. The enhanced chemical properties of selenocysteine (Sec) suggests that we can engineer improved hydrogenases with Sec instead of cysteine. These superior novel selenoproteins have the potential for industrial applications.